You do not have to be permanently disabled to collect Social Security Disability (SSD) or SSI income. Nonetheless, when Social Security awards disability benefits under either the SSD or SSI program, for all intents and purposes the award in many cases is synonymous with permanent disability since the majority of individuals will never be taken off disability benefit status.
That said, the social security administration still anticipates that at any given point a claimant’s condition “may” substantially improve, and thus requires those awarded disability benefits to participate in the process of a continuing disability review, or CDR. The sole purpose of the CDR process is to determine if there has been any improvement in the claimant’s medical or financial circumstances.
Approved claims are subject to “diary review dates” after one, three, and seven years, depending on the condition for which disability was awarded and the probability for improvement. Normally, all that is needed to avoid interruption of disability benefits is medical documentation that the claimant still suffers from the impairment for which disability was originally awarded, and that there has been no improvement.
Total disability vs. permanent disability
However, although you do not have to be permanently disabled to qualify for SSD or SSI benefits, you do have to be totally disabled, as defined by the social security administration (SSA).
SSA considers an individual totally disabled only if he or she is unable to earn more than the substantial gainful activity (SGA) amount for a given year. Here is the current SGA amount for non-blind individuals.
Disability claimants must be able to document, through their medical records, that their condition is severe enough to prevent them from returning to their job, or from performing any other job for which they may be suited, for at least one year.
Social security does not define totally disabled as unable to perform any work. You can work when you apply for disability and you can work after you are awarded disability—you just can’t make more than the SGA amount (this amount is updated annually to reflect inflation and cost of living increases).
Just keep in mind that, unlike workers’ compensation, which is governed by state laws and may award benefits for partial or temporary disability depending upon the state, Social Security Disability programs are run by the federal government—no matter where you file in the United States, you will be awarded SSD or SSI benefits only if you can demonstrate a severe, ongoing physical or mental impairment, that is not likely to improve, under any circumstances, within the next year.